[Twelve] VHS tapes and DVDs in Harvard Square — Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars

Pour one out for Mamoru Chiba’s eye.

Last year, I began a full and complete rewatch of one of my favorite anime series, Sailor Moon. This year, I finally finished it.

I’ve previously waxed poetic on why I love Sailor Stars despite it being a bit of a disjointed mess. I’ve also written about how it’s inspired other anime visually — like the blocking of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica finale. This post isn’t about that.

Instead, it’s about another facet of why Sailor Stars is my favorite Sailor Moon season. Outside of the typical factors we use when rating anime — sensible things like animation quality, production, narrative coherency, overarching themes and symbolism — the circumstances and context of how we watched it and who with frame our emotional attachment. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, and no other anime season inspires it in me quite like Sailor Stars due to how ridiculously difficult it was for me to watch it.

My Sailor Moon experience began in junior high school when I was ill and feverishly awake at odd hours. The English dubbed version of the first two seasons (Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon R) aired at about six in the morning, making it the perfect time to watch television while my parents were still asleep. At this point in time they had relaxed their stance on television somewhat to include seemingly everything but what I wanted to watch (Dawson’s Creek, Saturday Night Live) in order to have something to discuss with my peers, and we still did not have cable television. As a related aside, my parents, to this day, have never had cable television in their lives. They do, however, still own every single season of M*A*S*H and Gilmore Girls on DVD and watch them repeatedly.

Out of strictness was born surreptitiously videotaping the shows that I wanted to watch on videotape without their permission. The Sailor Moon dub quickly became one of those shows, despite the fact that I never asked them about it once. I just assumed that something that involved young women who were supposedly my age fighting in what could be considered somewhat questionable attire and dreaming of romances with men in university was probably not going to pass their figurative test. After watching both seasons several times, I purchased the Sailor Moon S movie on VHS and snuck it into my house. This was my first experience with raw, unedited Sailor Moon and it was glorious. My friend T, whose parents did have cable, taped the dubbed S and SuperS seasons for me when I couldn’t go over to her house to watch it, sprawling on the carpet in her living room with her cat and younger sister.

Sailor Moon SuperS was a slog. It also came out around the same time that I was preparing college applications and trying to do as many extracurricular activities as possible without collapsing. It wasn’t until the summer before my senior year in high school that I revisited Sailor Moon, not by returning to the SuperS season that I had abandoned, but by reading fan fiction on burgeoning internet communities.

It was there that I discovered the “lost season,” Sailor Moon Sailor Stars.

Presumably deemed too controversial to be aired on US television, Sailor Stars first came to me in images of the Sailor Starlights and offhanded mentions on fansites. While chatting in one of my art classes about Sailor Moon with T, another friend mentioned that she had one of the Sailor Stars DVDs. I asked her how that was possible, and she told me about a magical place in Harvard Square: an anime shop where I could rent Japanese releases for a small amount of money. The next time I took the train into Boston proper, I rented the first Sailor Stars DVD.

In addition to the odd adrenaline rush of doing something that (presumably) my parents would not want me to do, there was also the overwhelming feeling that I was watching the real version of Sailor Moon, as intended, in Japanese. It was an experience, something to be savored. I watched an episode a day and then revisited each episode several times before I took the commuter rail back into Boston and returned it for the next DVD. Each disk only had a few episodes, so going through the season was a comparatively arduous process to my current anime watching habits, which involve queueing up Crunchyroll or Netflix.

Watching Sailor Stars felt like something all my own. I could finally experience Michiru Kaioh and Haruka Tenou’s romantic relationship, not as “cousins” like the English dub wanted me to believe. I didn’t admit to myself that I was bi until much later in life but the signs were all there and in a way, Sailor Moon helped pave that path to acceptance.

Due to the transformation of the Sailor Starlights, I accepted that seeing an official release — thinking back on it now, these DVDs must have been fansubs, likely done by members of the shop staff, or perhaps people they knew from tape-trading, Sailor Moon was hardly the only anime they had available to rent — wasn’t likely in my lifetime. Now it is and I own it.

The overall experience of Sailor Stars for me cannot be divorced from this context. Sailor Stars meant a world beyond what I had seen previously, a world where Haruka and Michiru were a couple and Zoicite was a man. Sailor Stars meant popping on my snow boots, taking the commuter rail to North Station, the green line to Park Street, and the red line to Harvard. It meant hiding the DVD under the sofa until I could sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to watch it. Later, Sailor Stars meant admitting that yes, I was actually attracted to women, something that seems so simple now, but was impossible to acknowledge at the time.

Welcome to the Twelve Days of Anime project! I will (hopefully) fulfill the goal of writing one personal post a day for twelve days over the holidays discussing a personal experience with anime that I watched this year. For the curious, here are my posts from last year.

4 comments

  1. Sailor Moon Stars played a similar role for me. I watched it when I was in HS — I’d fallen in love with a girl for the first time, and she was straight, and Seiya Kou really helped me understand & work through my feelings. It holds a special place in my heart.

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